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air quality

Air quality

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Snapshot

Despite considerable progress in the past decades, ambient air pollution remains the number one environmental cause of death in the EU, still leading to about 400.000 premature deaths each year in the EU due to elevated levels of fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Air pollution also continues to harm ecosystems as more than halve of the EU territory is exposed to excess nitrogen deposition (eutrophication) and ozone concentrations. This causes reduced biodiversity, crop yields and other material damage.

EU environmental policy focusses on developing and implementing a clean air policy framework that reinforces national, regional and local policies for those aspects of the air quality problem that Member States cannot handle effectively or efficiently alone. EU policies also aim at implementing the Union's international obligations in the field of air pollution, having as main actors the citizens, to co-design and co-implement projects ; and at integrating environmental protection requirements into, for example, industry, construction, urban planning and design, energy, transport, urban farming and agriculture sectors.

In many Member States city authorities are either responsible for developing, implementing and evaluating official air quality plans under Directive 2008/50/EC or for city air quality plans that are linked to official regional air quality plans under Directive 2008/50/EC. Even if there are official regional air quality plans, cities often play a major role, as they tend to be the big economic centre of the region, with a concentration of population, traffic and industry. The fact those exceedances of PM (Particulate Matter) and NO2 in many cities in many countries persist, despite air quality action plans, indicate that innovative solutions and improvements in the approach are necessary: a better insight in where and when the air pollution problems may occur and how innovative solutions can contribute to solutions would be very welcome.

Urban authorities are relevant actors to implement air quality measures. Indeed, they are local actors with territorial knowledge and control over a range of instruments such as urban planning, infrastructure/traffic management, housing permits, parking policy etc., which allows them to steer and promote innovative solutions. They also generally control local budgets and employ the staff that have to do any implementation and to take or enforce measures in the case of smog episodes or long-term air quality plans.

The framework of the 3rd and 5th UIA call for proposals addressed the following common issues:

  • Innovative mobility solutions and clean commuting, such as low or no emission modes of transport; innovative modality options like e-bikes, cargo bikes or car sharing; and low Emission Zones and/or Congestion Charging to reduce the impact of commuter traffic from suburban and other areas surrounding the city (centre) on urban air quality.
  • Clean air citizen science, with the use of indicative air quality measurements (e.g. through deployment of reliable low-cost sensors) to complement the official air quality monitoring stations.
  • Air Quality monitoring and modelling, with the development and test of tools to establish better source inventories of air pollution and high resolution modelling tools to identify urban air pollution hot spots;
  • Clean air communication, with innovative approaches that adequately target key segments of the local population, such as in schools, the construction sector and the health community, to further sensitise citizens and stimulate behavioural and cultural change.

 

The 3rd UIA call for proposals (2018) also focused on healthy designs of public areas stimulating cycling and walking; nature-based solutions in cities (e.g. trees and plants for air quality, but based on evidence of air quality benefits); and innovative local and regional financing mechanisms (taxation, PPP's…). Additionally to these commons themes, the 5th call for proposals (2020) called cities on to  maximize synergies between energy/climate and air quality measures locally; test innovative actions on urban planning, mobility, energy and information, to reduce air pollution exposure of vulnerable groups; and designing and testing innovative approaches to clean air policies across different levels of governance.

35 cities from 12 European Member States proposed Air Quality innovative solutions in 2018. The solutions proposed largely followed the themes set out in the 3rd call for proposals:

  • Most of proposals included air quality monitoring, often with low-cost sensors and using citizens. Monitoring air quality featured in many of the proposals, sometimes accounting for a large part of the expenditure, but monitoring alone was not considered as a measure to improve air quality. 
  • Around half included the provision of information on air quality to encourage behavioural change, usually using apps. This common trend shows that it is crucial to understand the linkage between providing information and changing behaviour.
  • Around a third included vegetation in some form as a way to reduce pollution;
  • Around a quarter included air quality modelling, with a similar number including the use of electric vehicles and/or electric bikes;

 

The 5th UIA call for proposals (2020) received 46 applications addressing air quality issues, from 14 EU Member States. Numerous submitted applications confirmed that air pollution levels remain high in EU urban territories yet very different depending on cities’ contexts. As a result, depending on each city level of air quality, proposals aim at whether matching the EU air quality objectives or the WHO Air Quality Guidance values, demonstrating political readiness of these urban authorities to introduce higher environmental standards.

As a result, measures proposed were focused on either specific hot-spots within the urban/regional territory or specific sources and solutions provided mainly focused on clean commuting and air quality governance.

  • Targeted sources of pollution

The most targeted group of sources for this call of applications was traffic (NOx, PM, Black Carbon, Volatile Organic Compounds) which remains one of the most dominant urban sources affecting air quality in larger territories as well as creating hotspots. As urban authorities seem to be having less control over industrial emission sources, here the most typical approach was monitoring and impact mitigation. Little attention was given to domestic heating sector, although it represents a great air pollution source (particularly in Southern and Central Eastern Europe).

  • Clean commuting solutions

Many proposals targeted traffic related pollution mainly by proposing solutions to improve mobility services (e.g. promoting Zero-Emission (ZE) vehicles, providing user-centered and on-demand mobility services, "Low Emission" geospatial urban zones, etc.)

  • Air governance approach

It is broadly acknowledged and demonstrated by the submitted applications that effective cooperation between urban administrations is crucial as air pollution problem cannot be solved in each local administrative unit separately. Thus, proposals presents broaden partnership with other public and private organizations to develop solutions that go beyond existing practices and business models. These projects aim to support user-centered approaches for switching to alternative practises, for example, forms of local transport mobility or logistics transport trips, thus clearly standing out from usual regulatory policies.

Looking at the five projects selected in 2018 gives an understanding of the issues that urban authorities are dealing with when implementing air quality practices and policies.  

CALL 3 projects (2018)

  • DIAMS - Digital Alliance for Marseille Sustainability, Aix Marseille Provence Métropole
  • AirQon - Air Quality through EV Battery Connectivity, Breda
  • HOPE - Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone, Helsinki
  • CLAIRO - CLear AIR and Climate Adaptation in Ostrava and other cities
  • AIR-HERITAGE - Improving the environmental quality of the City of Portici: Monitoring, Modelling, and Mitigating Air Pollution through participated and efficient Policies

 

CALL 5 projects (2020)

  • CAIRGO BIKE - Brussels Capital Region
  • INNOAIR  - Sofia Municipality
  • AIR BREAK – Comune di Ferrara

Projects’ description will be online in the upcoming months. In the meantime, you can get a first flavor of the projects here.

Most of the projects deal with monitoring and use of data to improve air quality and citizens’ roles and social acceptance. In addition, most projects involve the regional authorities and organisations, demonstrating that air quality challenges can only be tackled while taking into consideration a large territorial scale and the different actors of the local multi-level framework.

Air quality monitoring and data management

Most of the projects focus on air quality monitoring and production of adaptive data and information to foster the citizens’ engagement and to facilitate the planning and design of activities and policies.

Aix Marseille Provence Metropole and the city of Ostrava share the common need of getting accurate and high quality data. By building an open source data-exchange platform focused on service delivery, DIAMS project  aims to improve air quality information and produces high quality, detailed and adaptive data by combining the power of IoT, citizens’ science and experienced local actors. With CLAIRO project, the city of Ostrava aims to generate knowledge to optimize health and quality of life among citizens thanks to an accurate measurement, robust data, new scientific solutions and involvement of experts from different sectors.

Data management and sharing are also key elements supporting planning and policy making process, as experienced by the AIR-HERITAGE project in Portici. The project develops high resolution pollutant mapping capability, by merging data produced by the air quality monitoring network, which integrates regulatory monitoring stations, fixed stations and citizens’ mobile personal exposure analysers. The data is then used to fuel a new Air Quality Policy Decision Support System. DIAMS project also enables a fluid exchange of air quality data among urban, regional and national authorities to facilitate integrated planning.

Citizens’ roles and social acceptance

Citizens' roles and social acceptance for air quality practices is a cornerstone of the five UIA funded projects. Indeed, they are all proposing innovative air quality measures where the involvement of residents and the public play a crucial role. Starting from different challenges and standing points, the five projects include innovative elements of citizen’s science, communication and data visualization, citizen’s behaviour as well as new governance structures that enable a better coordination of the policy-making process.

The active involvement of citizens is clearly shown by the case of AirQon (Breda), where the city aims to substitute diesel generators with an energy supply system based on Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries to provide off-grid energy for outdoor festivals and events. The solution is supported by societal innovation: building up and managing a community of EV owners willing to fuel open-air events with clean electricity. Within CLAIRO project (Ostrava), citizens are also key players when designing and contributing to the city greenery (vertical gardens, green façades, green roofs…).

Fostering behavioural change is the main purpose of HOPE project (Helsinki). It seeks to empower citizens to develop their own neighbourhood and help them plan their lives based on empirical data and air quality information. This approach is completed by a set of actions such a participative budgeting, which aims at fostering individual and community actions.

Creating an alliance involving citizens, community leaders as well as private and public and environmental stakeholders is a core solution developed by Aix Marseille Provence Metropole and the city of Portici. In Aix Marseille Provence with the DIAMS project, citizens will be able to get inspiration and to co-design innovative solutions tackling air pollution from the open-data platform. Portici’s project enhances citizen engagement in air quality policies through availability of personal exposure, feedbacks and targeted data sharing, creating a crowd sensing social network that will become part of the city’s policy-making process.

UIA experts capture, analyse and narrate the main findings, lessons learnt and experiences coming from the different UIA air quality projects. Look for their journals (analysis on main challenges for implementation) zoom-ins (focus on a cross-cutting dimension or specific component of the project) and web articles (overview of the project) to get deeper knowledge about air quality and related-topics. 

Air quality's articles & publications

Air quality's projects